Photo: Alyssa Haywoode for Strategies for Children
Photo: Alyssa Haywoode for Strategies for Children

For all its fun, Summer is also a time when children might experience the “summer slide” of losing ground academically. This problem is particularly acute for children from low-income families, many of whom have been shown to lose two to three months in reading achievement during the summer.

But now cities across Massachusetts are creating opportunities for students to keep learning and growing through activities that are engaging, fun, and educational.

As we blogged last month, many cities kicked off this season by celebrating National Summer Learning Day, a day of advocacy promoted in part by the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. This summertime work continues in Boston, Holyoke, New Bedford, Springfield, and other communities.

“Research shows that low-income children experience summer learning loss at a much higher rate than their middle-class peers, who typically benefit from enriching summer programs, learning experiences, and homes filled with books and reading,” according to the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley. “Over the course of one summer vacation, this summer learning loss creates an approximate three-month achievement gap in reading skills between the two groups of children. By middle school, the cumulative effect adds up to a gap equal to two full years of achievement.”

To help close the gap, the United Way is “expanding its nationally-recognized Summer Learning Collaborative to reach over 3,000 elementary school-age children in 25 program sites in the region. This year’s funding of $260,000 – raised from diverse partners such as Alliance Data, Boston Consulting Group, Boston Financial Data Services, Theodore Edson Parker Foundation, United Parcel Service, and United Way’s Women’s Leadership Council – enables the expansion to serve over 300 more children than last year and three additional locations,” according to the organization’s website.

“The 2015 locations will serve students from the communities of Lynn, Lawrence, Lowell, Salem, Winthrop, Peabody, Revere, Cambridge, Somerville, and Boston neighborhoods of Dorchester, East Boston, Allston Brighton, Chinatown, and Roxbury.”

Summer Learning in Boston

In Boston “over 6,500 Boston school children have enrolled in 78 summer learning programs in diverse, non-traditional settings around the city as part of the Boston Summer Learning Project, a coordinated public-private effort boosted by nearly $2 million in private funding,” according to a press release from Mayor Marty Walsh’s office.

The press release adds:

“Unlike traditional summer school programs offered exclusively in school facilities, the Boston Summer Learning Project will immerse youth in new, exciting environments — such as natural preservations, the Harbor Islands, college campuses, and workplaces — with an explicit focus on building skills in addition to academic content. Each program is full-day and offers a comprehensive list of enrichment activities to complement more formal academic instruction.”

Walsh also issued a challenge “for additional innovative programs to join the Boston Summer Learning Community, setting a goal of enrolling 10,000 school children in 100 summer learning programs over the next two years.”

In a blog post from May, Boston After School and Beyond provides the perspective of Rahn Dorsey, Boston’s chief of education.

At a meeting for summer learning providers, Dorsey called upon:

“the entire Summer Learning Community to help re-imagine what a broader, multi-dimensional education system could look like. ‘Learning today looks nearly identical to how it did 100 years ago. But a lot has changed since then — there is a lot more need to advance the STEM fields and cultivate talent to compete in today’s global economy. Yet, the school system is stuck in the past,’ said Dorsey. ‘We must work in partnership to truly modernize when, where, and how learning can happen.’

“According to Dorsey, summer learning is well positioned to help drive this change. Rather than the traditional three R’s of education, summer learning allows us to tackle three new goals: ‘rigor, relevance, and real-world experience.’”

Springfield Loves to Read

Like Boston, Springfield’s summer learning community is supported by many partners who provide a host of programs, including a reading program at the public library.

“Mayor Domenic J. Sarno and Springfield School Superintendent Daniel J. Warwick love to read, and as honorary Co-Chairmen of Springfield City Library’s Summer Reading Club, they challenge all city children (teens too!) to read this summer, for the fun of it!” a library announcement says.

“The fact is children who read every day during summer vacation won’t lose two months of learning; and in fact, they will maintain or even gain new skills!”

The program is sponsored by an impressive collection of partners including, the Friends of the Springfield Library, Inc., the Boston Bruins, the Massachusetts Library System, the Irene E. and George A. Davis Foundation, and the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners.

In Springfield, these kinds of partnerships are vital and growing. This summer, the Springfield Public Schools as well as the Hasbro Summer Learning Initiative, and other programs are exploring ways to share data on participating children. They hope to better understand the children’s collective progress and to identify the most effective programming for promoting children’s literacy. This collaboration springs from the efforts of the Summer Learning Workgroup, which was spearheaded by the Davis Foundation.

Holyoke’s Summer Strings

Summer learning is a musical event in Holyoke where students can participate in the Summer Strings program, which brings “free violin and cello lessons to students of the Holyoke Public Schools as well as our Mulitmedia Arts, Chorus, Yoga, Improvisation, Creative Writing/Speech, and a series of Community Concerts. PLUS we will be bringing a Dance Exploration Program as well!”

“Holyoke Summer Strings ended our first session with a beautiful concert at Holyoke City Hall at the Farmer’s Market!” the organization says on its Facebook page. To raise funds, Summer Strings has a Go Fund Me page where it has a goal of raising $6,000.

The Holyoke Public Schools (HPS) system has a Summer Learning website that includes reading lists and a link to a number of programs. HPS’s goal is to “provide excellent summer programming that reinforces skills learned during the year, addresses deficits developed during the academic year, and moves the district forward toward achieving our improvement goals.”

All Hands on Deck in New Bedford

Earlier this month, the Greater New Bedford Early Literacy Consortium, in partnership with Mayor Jon Mitchell, held its “All Hands on Deck for Literacy” kickoff event at the New Bedford Public Library.

“All Hands on Deck” is a new campaign led by the consortium in conjunction with the Birth-Third Leadership Alignment Team, a partnership — among public schools, community-based preschools, New Bedford Housing Authority, and several additional human service providers and educational organizations in the community — that’s funded by the Department of Early Education and Care.

The goal is to raise awareness of early literacy and engage children, families, and all other community stakeholders in an effort to improve early literacy and language development during the first five years. “All Hands on Deck” promotes talking, singing, playing, listening, and, of course, reading — any interaction that will build young children’s language skills.

The nautical theme and ship’s wheel logo align with the school district’s well-established Smooth Sailing Into Kindergarten initiative, which increases early learning and readiness throughout the year, preparing children for the ever-important transition to kindergarten.

Summer Learning’s Impact

RAND, a national research organization, conducted a study, funded by The Wallace Foundation, that looked at how summer learning affects academic performance and social-emotional development. The Boston Summer Learning Project is part of this study, and it found that Boston 4th graders attending a voluntary, summer learning program entered school in the fall with a statistically significant advantage in mathematics, compared to their peers who did not attend the program,” Boston’s press release explains.

RAND says it “will explore whether these near-term gains persist beyond the fall (a question that remains unanswered), delve deeper into how summer learning programs impact school-year grades, attendance, and testing, and explore how to implement high-quality programs. These results may help districts, summer learning providers, and policymakers make better decisions about funding and implementing summer learning programs—and help stop the summer slide.”

As Boston’s Mayor Walsh says, “When we create opportunities for our young people, we set them on a pathway to a successful future and build a stronger city.”

High-quality summer learning helps pave that crucial pathway.